Orange boss ‘radically opposed’ to Israel boycott

After last week saying he wanted his firm to withdraw from Israel, backpedaling CEO Richard again claims that Orange will not do so

French telecom operator Orange CEO Stephane Richard in Paris, February 17, 2014. (AFP/ERIC PIERMONT)
French telecom operator Orange CEO Stephane Richard in Paris, February 17, 2014. (AFP/ERIC PIERMONT)

PARIS –The head of French telecoms group Orange, Stephane Richard, said Monday he was “radically opposed” to any trade boycott of Israel after he sparked a row last week by saying he wanted to “withdraw” from Israel as soon as possible.

“It was never the question for a second that Orange would withdraw from Israel,” he told French TV station BFMTV.

He confirmed he would travel to the Jewish state soon following an invite from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“He has invited me to come see him,” said Richard.

The CEO said last Wednesday in Cairo that his firm would withdraw its brand from Israel “tomorrow” if it could. A day later, Orange announced it intended to sever its ties with its Israeli franchise holder Partner.

Richard’s comments were seen as a reaction to a report accusing Orange of indirectly supporting settlement activity in occupied territory through its relationship with Partner Communications.

Israel reacted furiously, accusing him of bowing to a Palestinian-led boycott campaign.

Richard quickly tried to limit the damage, claiming there was no political motivation behind the move, saying he “loves” Israel and that Orange was in Israel “to stay,” and telling AFP at the weekend that he “sincerely regrets” the furore.

Partner’s owner Haim Saban is threatening to sue Orange, and on Saturday called the claim that its actions are not politically motivated a “blatant lie.”

Partner, Israel’s second largest mobile operator which has a license to use the Orange brand, insisted that he travel to the country to explain himself, as did Netanyahu.

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